When a coach is fired, we tend to ask a two-part question: What did that coach do or not do that earned the dismissal, and why did it happen at that particular moment? Sometimes they hit a wall, and sometimes they die by a thousand small cuts.
With Guillermo Barros Schelotto, there’s a bit of both, and his final game in charge of the LA Galaxy shows it. The five-time MLS Cup champions were eviscerated 5-2 by the Timbers in Portland on Wednesday night, a result that leaves them last in the Western Conference, effectively ending their playoff hopes and providing a microcosm of their struggles under GBS, even though some of the problems predate him.
The fact that they provided such little resistance at such an important juncture convinced the Galaxy that Schelotto had run out of rope. That any more time for him on the hot seat would be time wasted – even though reports suggest that it will cost them no small amount of money to dismiss him with a year left on his seven-figure contract.
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“There is no secret that defensively, we haven't been able to perform,” Galaxy GM Dennis te Kloese told reporters in a Thursday evening conference call, before alluding to “too many games that obviously don't represent what the fans expect from us. … Hopefully, we end up on a note that, at least the upcoming games, fans see pride and see the fighting spirit that as a minimum requirement should be in our team.”
There’s almost never an excuse for professional players to phone it in, though Galaxy veterans can possibly be forgiven for a “here we go again” sensation. Their team’s leakiness has now moved past the “problem” phase towards something more like “syndrome.” Their chronic inability to close up shop has been festering for nearly half a decade.
A look through the past several seasons shows that LA were once a sturdy side in this regard. In 2016 they conceded 39 goals over the course of their league campaign, the second-fewest in MLS, as they made a run to the conference semifinals in that year’s playoffs, losing to Colorado in a penalty-kick shootout. Then the floor fell out.
In 2017 they gave up 67 goals, second-most in the league. In 2018 they bled 64 goals; in 2019 it was 59. And this year it’s 41, third-most in MLS. Unsurprisingly, the postseason qualifications LA once took for granted have become the exception rather than the rule. GBS was the third coach tapped to address this, and despite his solid track record in Argentina he was comprehensively unsuccessful at shoring up the dam.
Add in the bewildering inability of pricey showpiece signing Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to settle in and produce at even the most modest level, and the writing was on the wall. Even if it costs them a pretty penny to part ways with Schelotto, it’s a fraction of what they’ve invested in their Mexican striker.
On a deeper level, LA’s OGs are in a tough spot. The Southern California market expects both style and substance, and across town LAFC have made pedal-to-the-metal, light-opposing-defenses-on-fire-at-all-costs soccer a central element of their brand. So the Galaxy brain trust are under considerable pressure to win, win now, and win with panache. Te Kloese alluded to the importance of matching their fans' dedication, and their hard-cores are already fed up.
It’s a Goldilocks situation: Stars are quite literally part of the Galaxy’s name, but they have to find just the right ones. Though they have a fertile youth talent pool, they can’t quite go all-in on the academy like FC Dallas or Philadelphia. And though they don’t really want to be a 1-0 type of outfit, they can’t keep getting eviscerated week in, week out.
“Obviously an offensive style is desired,” said Te Kloese. “Now how you set it up tactically, where you recover the ball, what you do when the ball turns over, where you position yourself when you lose the ball, those are all things that obviously a coach needs to make a decision, and has also freedom.
“But there’s an idea that obviously our team needs to show energy, needs to show dynamics. We have young players that can do that. And we have quality players such as the players we mentioned, to play a style that could be considered as balanced, but mostly offensive.”
That’s a tall order! And it comes with a short leash attached.
It’s no easy job. Their saving grace, of course, is that they’re still in LA, and they’re still the Galaxy, so they’ll have no shortage of qualified applicants. Now the pressure falls squarely on Te Kloese – a highly respected figure thanks to his good work in Mexico – to find the perfect porridge for this finicky situation.